Increased timber commercialization could ease mining job losses, Combs says

02/14/2015 04:22 PM

As regions of the state continue to suffer from economic downturns, expanding timer commercialization in Kentucky may be one way to boost state and local economies, said Rep. Leslie Combs.

“We’re looking for opportunities every day,” said Combs, D-Pikeville.

Combs’ eastern Kentucky district is not the only portion of the state that could see an impact from an expanded timber industry in the state, said Combs and Leah MacSwords, the director of the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

MacSwords said there are currently 12 million acres of forest land and all 120 counties have merchantable timber.

“109 counties have forest industries,” MacSwords said. “It contributes over $12 billion to the state’s economy.”

A 2014 University of Kentucky review of the forestry says there are more than 28,000 jobs in the forest and wood industry in the state.

The industry delivers a total employment — direct, indirect and induced — impact of more than 50,000 jobs, according to UK.

Combs said timber could be used in state not only to create jobs, but also to protect a signature industry in manufacturing bourbon barrels, a commodity that has been in short supply as the bourbon market takes off.

“The potential is where can we go, and how can we grow this,” Combs said.

With the possibility of expanding the market and looking to grow money on trees Combs and MacSwords said an important point to make is reforestation.

“This is a product that if done properly … could be continually re-grown,” Combs said.

And MacSwords said the industry needs “sound forest management.”

“In Kentucky we grow more trees than are removed or die,” she said (10:00). “That’s good. That means we have enough tree volume available to support additional industries.”

Combs said the overall goal is to include the discussion of increased timber commercialization as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR, initiative. There are also talks taking place with the Economic Development Cabinet to increase the market, but the first step Combs said is education and proper reforestation.

With a hit to mining industry in the eastern portion of the state Combs said the timber industry could provide the economic boost the region needs.

“We have a workforce in eastern Kentucky that I think is unbelievable,” Combs said. “The skills are great and we have a lot of people that want to work.”

“People come to me every day and here is the statement … ‘Leslie if you could put me back in the coal mine tomorrow I’d go in a heart-beat, but just find me a job,” Combs added.

“What we have to do is find opportunities for people to use those skills.”


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